Every Tuesday, Heave features editor Dominick Mayer brings you On The Apron, a closer analysis of the latest goings-on in WWE.
Reading over the first month’s installments of this column, I realize that a lot of it has been negative but optimistic. While that’s sort of the glass ceiling for a 24-year-old WWE fan, and while I acknowledge that the pro wrestling currently being made for fans like me tends to lean toward the indie, it’s not like WWE is absolutely terrible. For as much as people get upset, we’re a far cry from the mid-2000s lull after the full-time exits of most of the Attitude stars. Until Heidenreich returns to once again commit forcible sodomy, WWE is far from its many nadirs right now.
So, with that in mind, I want to pose a list for discussion. Without further ado, I bring you:
Five Things That Are Pretty Awesome About WWE Right Now
1) The indie boom
People have talked a lot about how WWE has started drawing heavily from the independent circuit for its developmental talents, but most of the discourse around that tends to sound more like “Who’re they going to ruin next?” than “This is an exciting and important time!” Right now, you can tune into Raw and watch Bryan Danielson wrestle Jon Moxley or Tyler Black. CM Punk is easily the second biggest full-time wrestler in WWE right now. PAC and Chris Hero are waiting in the wings to step up. Hell, if somebody realizes that Claudio Castagnoli is being wasted in his current role of “guy who loses to Randy Orton every Monday night,” there’s another former indie star who could make good. The defeatist attitude isn’t without foundation, granted; just look at what WWE did to every cruiserweight they drew from WCW who wasn’t Rey Mysterio. However, this is a really amazing time for pro wrestling, when the drawing power of unsung, underground stars is finally being acknowledged. Revel in it.
Alternate title: How WWE is getting one thing very, very right. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a new act be pushed this effectively; one of the byproducts of the John Cena & Co. era is an inability to build up heels without sooner or later putting them over the A-list stars, an event rarer than Cena being able to land a dropping punch correctly. But I digress, for this is supposed to be a positive column this week. Where so many pushes have been started and stopped in recent years, The Shield were established as a force from their first appearance onward, beating Cena and Sheamus and every other big star currently going. Their only loss as a team, on this week’s Raw, came courtesy of a disqualification that still saw them beat the hell out of Cena after the match. They’ve been established as no-nonsense guys who come in (through the crowd, which is boss-type behavior to be sure), hurt people using excellent teamwork skills and leave the way they came in. There’s no frills, no overplotting, just solid wrestling and an act sold well.
3) Literally everything about Mark Henry’s current run
How it took WWE nearly 15 years to realize that Henry is best utilized as a believable monster who breaks people in all confrontations is beyond me. But it’s here, and it’s awesome, and he basically flayed Sheamus alive last week.
4) Ryback coming into his own
Yeah, I laughed at the “Gooooldberg” chants that accompanied Ryback’s initial push too. That said, the former Skip Sheffield has really made the most of a heel run that’s inevitably going to end in another loss, ensuring that it might not be as much a setback as getting hit in the dick by Brad Maddox was last fall. He’s become perfectly detached, holding his own on the mic against Mick Foley and even maintaining his cool when Cena dressed him down last week. His current character reminds me a lot of Batista’s shortly before the latter left to star in the RZA’s martial arts films, and that’s a really, really good thing going forward.
5) Less talk, more wrasslin’
One of the biggest issues WWE has struggled with this past decade is the balance of escapist comedy that puts the “entertainment” in their E with actual pro wrestling. Recently the shows have moved back onto the positive side of that line, with the comedy sketches still existing but not overshadowing the wrestling that fans are ostensibly tuning in and paying to see. Granted, the right people aren’t always winning, and even on a three-hour show there’s still the issue of matches being too short, but it’s getting better. This is foundational stuff that will slowly drag everybody out of the dark ages of Santino holding the U.S. and Intercontinental titles, and into something a bit more palatable for, yes, the whole family.